Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Possession time will be huge for Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG -- Logan Thomas remembers the forlorn look of his mentor as the game slipped away.

This happened in Atlanta, in 2009. Thomas wasn't Virginia Tech's quarterback then, but he was dressed out and there, and he had no power to change things.

The problem? Neither did Tyrod Taylor, who was Virginia Tech's quarterback then.

Georgia Tech owned the ball. Seconds became minutes. Minutes became eternities. The Yellow Jackets had possession for more than 11 minutes in the third quarter. Then, in the fourth, they controlled it for better than 11 minutes again while clinching a 28-23 victory that all but ruined the Hokies' chances at an ACC championship.

Thomas never has asked Taylor how it felt watching that second half unfold that day. He doesn't need to. He understood it then.

"You're kind of helpless," Thomas said this week. "You can't do anything. You're not out there on the field."

Looking for the biggest key to tonight's game? That's it. Hold the ball. Dictate the action. Make Georgia Tech consider the clock an obstacle rather than a weapon.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer seems resigned to the fact that the Yellow Jackets are going to score some points tonight. For one thing, they usually do. That offense is ranked 17th nationally in scoring at 37.6 points a game.

For another, Virginia Tech's defense looks nothing like it did at the beginning of the season. We all keep wondering when the injuries are going to cause the dam to burst. This is the night most of us thought it could happen.

So here are three things that Virginia Tech needs to do to win tonight:

1. Running back David Wilson, who's had a remarkably productive year despite lacking a "wow" game, must record season highs in carries and yards. The "wow" game - a couple of 75-yard runs and four touchdowns, let's say - would be nice. But steady, solid gains (and lots of 'em) will work.

2. Thomas must be accurate on the short and intermediate routes, particularly on third down. A replication of his Miami performance might be too much to ask, but he'll need something in that neighborhood.

3. The defensive line must play its most physical game of the season, getting penetration and disrupting the Georgia Tech operation in the backfield.

What would those three things add up to? The Hokies owning possession time, or at least posting a credible figure in that category. And that's huge.

This season, the Yellow Jackets have roughly a 5-minute edge in time of possession over their opponents. Nobody has to tell Hokies fans that. They know that the spread option produced more than a 15-minute advantage in time of possession in that 2009 meeting between the Techs.

"We have to control the ball if we want to win this game," Virginia Tech right tackle Blake DeChristopher said. "It starts up front. We have to move the guys if we want to be able to keep the chains moving. So during practice all week, all the coaches have tried to emphasize that. I think that's a big goal for our team."

In many ways, this matchup is a grunt's dream. Control the clock? Hey, that's what they signed up for. And if they can do it, they'll get lauded - something that rarely happens for offensive linemen.

If they can't? Goatville's waiting. But, hey, they're accustomed to that.

Beamer made it clear that the Hokies won't be running down the clock simply for the sake of controlling time of possession. They'll start their plays when they normally do regardless of what the play clock digits read. They won't use Thomas in the rushing attack any more than usual.

They won't be obsessed with a number beside a colon.

"Whether you throw it or you run it, that's not the issue," Beamer said. "The issue is that you do it, and then come up with some points. You can't only just keep the ball away. You've got to get some points. If you can ever get them behind, you've got an advantage there."

If they do it tonight, they'll have it, and likely it'll be a win.

And if they don't? Then Thomas might be standing there, gaining a full understanding of what Taylor felt.

And all of us can book our trips to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

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